Social Work Students Need a Standardized Means to Learn Practice in the Context of a Healthy and Authentic Use of Self
Each of the 10 competencies established by CSWE is inherent in or impacted by most of the other competencies and collectively involve various levels of practice interventions. As social work students engage with their academic and practice education, they are profoundly challenged to internalize and externalize knowledge, values and skills in cyclical patterns of growth and development. I see the “Grand Challenge” for social work as the need to increase and support holistic professional development in students that can be sustained throughout their professional career. The real challenge for social work students is to practice from a foundation of an authentic self.
McCoyd and Kerson, in the Journal of Social Work Education (49:674-688, 2013) refer to use of self in their article, “Teaching Reflective Social Work Practice in Health Care: Promoting Best Practices.”
They suggest teaching social work practice as “practice in context” (PIC) and the “use of self” as a common theme in best practice. They state, “The framework provides a model to holistically and reflectively evaluate their own work…[and] change their internal professional heuristics (Epstein et al., 2008), by having them examine their most concrete actions through their innermost counter-transference reactions.” p. 677
In his book In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts, Gabor Mate states in his preface regarding recognizing our authentic self:
“In our materialist society, with our attachment to ego gratification, few of us escape the lure of addictive behaviors. Only our blindness and self-flattery stand in the way of seeing that the severely addicted are people who have suffered more than the rest of us but who share a profound commonality with the majority of ‘respectable’ citizens.” Gabor Mate, MD, 2008, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts, p. XV, (3rd ed.)
I suggest this “Grand Challenge” can best be accomplished and regularly evaluated by developing a community clinic in conjunction with the university programs. A collaborative approach of social work with the psychology, sociology, social welfare and/or the MD psychiatric departments could provide a rich environment for student learning, social service community interventions, individual clinical interventions, research and partnership with community agencies. Foundational practice could be incorporated and field instruction standardized using available resources (staff, video equipment, observation opportunities, individual and group consultation). The community clinic could provide services and opportunities to the university students at large, as well as practice learning opportunities for mental health and social service students.
As part of social work foundational instruction, students could be required to have a number of sessions of therapy to guide them in their self-assessment and provide healthy directions in use of self in their practice. Students could participate in and/or practice group work, community care projects or a standardized foundation practicum with full-time field instruction. Students could also participate in self-care opportunities (such as offered online by University of Buffalo School of Social Work: http://www.socialwork.buffalo.edu/students/self-care/) to strengthen their ability to deal with vicarious trauma in their practice.